Tag Archives: Hollywood

Hot Dudes + Big Girls

Inspired partially by an encounter with a cologne-model looking dude at a train station and the most recent episode of Shameless (in which Lip hooks up with a very sexy woman much larger than him), I wrote this week for Role/Reboot about what happens when “guys like that” like “girls like me.”

I’ve written about this before (as did everybody else) after the infamous Girls episode with Patrick Wilson.

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Related Post: Lena Dunham + Patrick Wilson

Related Post: Female figures are, by definition, “feminine.”

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More on Miley

How many essays have you read about Miley Cyrus today? I think I’m up to 11. It’s like a gender studies bingo card: cultural appropriation, slut-shaming, female chauvinist pigs, shock politics, objectification of self, minstrel performance, etc. etc. etc. It was BAD, you guys, like… really bad.

There’s a lot of angles to take on a performance as awful as that one, and other people have written well about the racism. Some are slut-shaming like cray (looking at you Mika) and entirely missing the point (taking your clothes off is not the issue here… remember this epic performance in minimal clothing? Or this one?) At least, it’s not THE issue.

To me, her act was a naked and unappealing power grab from a young woman who decided to fake dominance by mimicking the least attractive traits of the big boys she envies. What are the hallmarks of male entertainer success? Decorating yourself with women, groping anything you want? An entourage of colorful people as props? To my mind, it was basically a 3 minute infomercial for Female Chauvinist Pigs, Ariel Levy’s stellar exploration of young women’s strange embrace of raunch culture. Thesis: I’d rather be the objectifier than the objectified, and if that’s not an option, I’ll just objectify myself before you do it to me.

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Related Post: Why I think Beyonce’s Superbowl performance was a winner

Related Post: Things that are not the opposite of misogyny

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“Strong Female Characters”? No thanks.

NewStatesman piece is going around this week called “I Hate Strong Female Characters,” and it’s actually pretty good. Sophia McDougall makes the not-new but needs-repeating argument that we conflate the presence of “strong female characters” in our media with equality. She points out that a) implying strength as an unusual asset for female characters is belittling (would we crow about a film with strong male characters? HAH) and that b) boxing female characters into narrow tropes of success (she can roundhouse kick!) reduces human complexity and replaces one archetype with another. Putting Scarlet Johnson on the cover of the Avengers does not equality make, even if she can roundhouse.  See Margaret Lyons’ similar argument regarding The Newsroom

Khandi Alexander as LaDonna Baptiste-Williams on Treme

Khandi Alexander as LaDonna Baptiste-Williams on Treme

Though I wouldn’t state my position with quite the extremity McDougall’s essay title suggests (though that’s probably just a smart editor baiting for clicks), I generally feel the same way. The female characters that I am thrilled to see in TV and movies are complicated, multi-faceted, not-always-right, not-always-wrong humans. While there’s an aspirational part of me that will always love CJ Cregg (The Jackal is forever in my heart), CJ is not complicated for me. She is strong and devoted and loyal and smart, but I always agree with her. She never makes mistakes. Never behaves badly, or selfishly, or shows weakness that isn’t also designed to show strength. She is an idealized version of what I want a press secretary to be (Remember “Crackpots and These Women?” Bartlett idealizes her too) and never forces me to confront hard truths or tough ethical dilemmas.

There’s room for the CJs, of course, but it’s also important that we show that women can be messy and difficult (This is the age of the anti-hero, right? How about an anti-heroine?) They can be good people who make mistakes, or bad people who aren’t always bad, or, you know, just people who are hella complicated because they’re humans. Here are a few of the characters that I generally like because they are forceful, ambitious, strong, driven but who are sometimes dishonest, weak, foolish, selfish, conflicted, etc. 

  • Deb Morgan (Dexter)
  • Skyler White (Breaking Bad)
  • Piper Chapman (Orange is the New Black…actually, everyone on Orange is the New Black)
  • Rayna James, Juliette Barnes (Nashville)
  • Jeanette Desautel, LaDonna Baptiste-Williams (Treme)
  • Peggy Olson (Mad Men)
  • Carrie Mathison (Homeland)
  • Claire Underwood (House of Cards)
  • Cersei Lannister (Game of Thrones)
  • Diane Lockhart, Alicia Florrick (The Good Wife)

There’s something to be said for the fact that I could pull this list off the top of my head. I do think things are getting better, with more and more interesting (not “strong,” but interesting) roles for women. So what do we want? I think McDougall sums it up well:

What do I want instead of a Strong Female Character? I want a male:female character ratio of 1:1 instead of 3:1 on our screens. I want a wealth of complex female protagonists who can be either strong or weak or both or neither, because they are more than strength or weakness. Badass gunslingers and martial artists sure, but also interesting women who are shy and quiet and do, sometimes, put up with others’ shit because in real life there’s often no practical alternative. And besides heroines, I want to see women in as many and varied secondary and character roles as men: female sidekicks, mentors, comic relief, rivals, villains.

Related Post: Things that are not the opposite of misogyny

Related Post: The best two minutes on TV about sex ever. 

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Celebrity overshare vs. Celebrity megashare

Angelina Jolie/mastectomy

Ashley Judd/sexual assault

Beyonce/miscarriage

Catherine Zeta-Jones/bipolar disorder

Gwyneth Paltrow/miscarriage

RA Dickey/sexual abuse

Scott Brown/sexual abuse

Christine Quinn/bulimia and alcoholism

The news has been plastered lately with the celebrity megashare, Angelina’s breast cancer NYT editorial is only the latest. Are they trying to sell books and drum up their fans? Or win elections? Or are they really trying to help people by using their celebrity to shine light on difficult subjects?

My latest on Role/Reboot:

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Related Post: On Beyonce’s superbowl performance

Related Post: What if it were an 18-year-old female pop star talking about her sex life?

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Why don’t we talk about Charlie Sheen being a bad role model?

This week on Role/Reboot I wrote about the the term “role model.” I realized that, in my own head, I have a tendency to hold successful women to a higher standard, expecting them to be on “good behavior” and set the “right example” all the time, and for everyone. There are so many bad-behaving male celebrities, and we never talk abou them as being bad role models. I think in some ways it’s as simple as the fact that there are many more men in the limelight, and so the need for “role models” is not so dire.

We assume that women who seek fame or success should also be moral role models as well. We don’t hold men to that standard. Some of them just want to be rich and famous and don’t give two shits about who they influence along the way. I’m not suggesting that’s a great attitude, only that it’s one we accept from men. Maybe Rihanna just wants to be rich and famous? Being a “role model” has never seemed to be her priority, so we do keep trying to drape her in that mantle?

Screenshot_4_4_13_1_06_PMRelated Post: You guessed it, I’m a privileged white girl

Related Post: Sometimes, though, people are actually kind of cool

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Recommended Viewing

By request, here’s the complete list of recommended movies and television for the Re-Education Project. Just a reminder, these are not endorsements, or even necessarily “great” movies. I asked the Internet (well, my Internet) for recommendations of movies and TV that are defining, genre-challenging, game-changing, emblematic, problematic, or representative of depictions of women/gender/feminism/sex. I want to contextualize what I currently see and watch with some of their important predecessors, and these were your suggestions. Thank you!

Anything with an asterisk is on Netflix Watch Instant!

Television:

  • Ozzie and Harriet (1952)
  • The Jackie Gleason Show (1952)
  • Father Knows Best (1954)
  • Leave it to Beaver (1957)*
  •  that girlThat Girl (1966)
  • Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970)
  • All in the Family (1971)
  • Maude (1972)
  • The Jeffersons (1975)
  • Laverne and Shirley (1976)
  • The Cosby Show (1984)
  • Golden Girls (1985)
  • Roseanne (1988)
  • Murphy Brown (1988)
  • Prime Suspect (1991)*
  • Living Single (1993)
  • X-Files (1993)*
  • Xena  (1995)*
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997)*buffy
  • Farscape (1999)
  • Girlfriends (2000)
  • Alias (2001)*
  • Ellen (not the talk-show) (2001)
  • Firefly (2002)*
  • The L Word (2004)*
  • Veronica Mars (2004)
  • Damages (2007)*
  • Dollhouse (2009)*
  • Lost Girl (2010)*

Movies:

  • Morocco (1930)
  • Sylvia Scarlett (1935)
  • Streetcar Named Desire (1951)streetcar
  • Calamity Jane (1953)
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)*
  • Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967)
  • The Taming of the Shrew (1967)
  • The Stepford Wives (1975)
  • Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977)
  • I Spit on Your Grave (1978)*
  • Norma Rae (1979)
  • 9 to 5 (1980)*
  • Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)
  • The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982)*
  • Tootsie (1982)
  • Silkwood (1983)
  • Yentl (1983)
  • The Color Purple (1985)
  • Aliens (1986)
  • Fatal Attraction (1987)
  • Baby Boom (1987)
  • Big Business (1988)
  • Working Girl (1988)working girl
  • Bull Durham (1988)
  • Steel Magnolias (1989)*
  • When Harry Met Sally (1989)
  • Thelma and Louise (1991)
  • Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
  • A League of Their Own (1992)*
  • Sleepless in Seattle (1993)*
  • Natural Born Killers (1994)
  • Boys on the Side (1995)
  • The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)
  • Jackie Brown (1997)*jackie
  • Elizabeth (1998)
  • All I Wanna Do (1998)
  • 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
  • Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1999)
  • But I’m a Cheerleader! (1999)
  • Erin Brockovich (2000)
  • Chocolat (2000)
  • Riding in Cars with Boys (2001)
  • Anita and Me (2002)
  • Bend it Like Beckham (2002)
  • Whale Rider (2002)
  • Mona Lisa Smile (2003)*
  • House of Flying Daggers (2004)
  • Brick Lane (2007)
  • Becoming Jane (2007)
  • Caramel (2007)
  • Persepolis (2007)
  • Juno (2007)
  • The Duchess (2008)
  • I Spit on Your Grave (2010)
  • Easy A (2010)

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Filed under Gender, Hollywood

Update on the Re-education Project

The view from the Sixth Floor Museum, in Dallas. See those green signs? That's about where Kennedy's car was when he was shot.

The view from the Sixth Floor Museum, in Dallas. See those green signs? That’s about where Kennedy’s car was when he was shot.

Apologies for the radio silence, mi amors. I’ve been in Texas complaining about the weather (I was cheated out of my 75 and sunny!), eating, and weeping at the Sixth Floor Museum (in the building from which Kennedy was shot).

You guys are seriously the best. Last week, I put out the call for movie/TV suggestions to help launch my “re-education project”  in which I try to round out my knowledge of historical on-screen portrayals of the ladies. The suggestions were fantastic and I’m just about ready to quit my job and sit in front of netflix all day. Later this week, I’ll list out all of the suggestions in case you want to undertake your own watch-a-thon.

Let’s talk about Waitress. This wasn’t even supposed to be an official part of the project; I had it filed away in my head as cutesy romance about a pregnant pie maker and her OB. Wow was I wrong. I mean, I’m not entirely wrong, that is what it’s about, but it’s about so much more! This is a feminist movie. About pie. And pregnancy. And romance. This proves, once again, that feminism is not about shitting on pies or babies, but is instead about thinking critically about what choices we afford people, what assumptions we make, and how gendered expectations can limit opportunity.

Waitress, if you don’t know, was a film written and directed by Adrienne Shelly (who was murdered in 2006), about a small-town diner waitress, Jenna, stuck in an abusive marriage. It could have been a heavy-handed film about domestic violence, capital D, capital V. Instead, it’s a sweet, silly, beautiful movie that also happens to capture some truths about domestic abuse that we are all very good at ignoring.

I happened to spend my Texas weekend with a friend who is a domestic violence counselor and she agreed that Waitress, through it’s humor and likability, is able to get at some of the insidious, less acknowledged components of abusive relationships. So many people say to her, why don’t these women just leave? Money is often the culprit, as it is with Jenna, who addresses “how lonely it is to be so poor and so afraid.”

waitressHer husband, Earl, is also not the caricature of an abuser we often see. He is not outright mean and aggressive, but controls Jenna through manipulation and subtle threats. He keeps her money so she won’t have other options. He undermines her confidence with casual insults. He tells her exactly what to say, and how to say it, forcing her to repeat to him the words he wants to hear. He also cries against her pregnant belly. He is weak and insecure, and he hides his insecurity behind faux swagger. He says things like:

“After everything I’ve done for you…”

“I provide for you. I put the clothes on your back, the roof over your head.”

“You’re the only thing I’ve ever loved.”

“You belong to me.”

“Ask me how was my day. Ask me like you mean it.”

Not all abuse looks like a black eye. Waitress also acknowledges the extremely precarious position Jenna’s pregnancy forces her into. Take Jenna’s observation about her unborn baby:

It’s an alien and a parasite. It makes me tired and weak. It complicates my whole life. I resent it. I don’t know how to take care of it.

It’s frank, it’s candid. She later says to her friend, “Not everybody wants to be a mama, Dawn, that doesn’t make me a bad person.” These are poor women. They are uneducated women. They are diner waitresses who expect to be diner waitresses forever, because there are no other choices. The ending of the movie (Spoiler Alert) also reinforces how trapped they are. Jenna is given a whopping financial gift from a dying customer and is able to rescue herself and her baby from her situation. It’s a fairytale, but through the transparent rosy glow of Jenna’s happy ending, it’s all the more evident how few happy endings real women in her position would have.

So yeah, it’s a movie about pie. There are lots of pastel colors, and Cheryl Hines cracking jokes, and Nathan Fillion looking dashing. But really, it’s a movie about what happens when you’re trapped and how hard we’ve made it to rescue yourself.

Related Post: Another great feminist movie, For a Good Time Call…

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Sunday Scraps 92

sunday92

1. CHICAGO: Love this story from Chicago Magazine about the millionaire founder of Land’s End’s financial and emotional commitment to personally reinvigorating the neighborhood he grew up in.

2. TINA: Blurgh! It’s over. At least the dearly departed 30 Rock  has left us with some serious vocabulary, as catalogued by Slate.

3. TINA #2: More on 30 Rock, because it’s just that important, Wesley Morris for Grantland specifically focuses on the show’s portrayal of race.

4. ART: Photographer Paul Schneggenberger captures couples sleeping over a 6 hour period and creates sort of wierd, mostly awesome portraits of sleep.

5. GUNS: Illinois has super harsh gun laws and yet Chicago has a serious gun problem. What gives? NYT has a map showing where Chicago guns come from.

6. MARRIAGE EQUALITY: My new favorite NBA player, Kenneth Faried, introduces his two moms (who seem quite reluctant to be on camera) to lend his voice to the fight for marriage equality.

Related Post: Sunday 91 – McDonald’s and books, sci-fi gender swapping, celeb high school photos

Related Post: Sunday 90 – Lindsay Lohan, Frida, Tina + Amy Forever

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Sunday Scraps 90

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1. HOLLYWOOD: It’s the piece everyone was talking about this week, so if you missed it, play catch-up with the Lindsay Lohan/James Deen/Bret Easton Ellis/”The Canyons” how-the-sausage-is-made essay.

2. INDEX: This is Indexed blogger/writer/drawer Jessica Hagy is interviewed for Fast Company about how she found her 3×5 sized internet niche.

3. WRITERS: The Rumpus interviews Zadie Smith about her novel NW, and why she doesn’t write autobiographically.

4. TINA + AMY: How pumped are you for tonight’s Golden Globes hosting-duo? Not enough? Get more so with NYMag’s recap of their friendship.

5. INDIA: I can’t even begin to describe how dead-on this opinion piece by Sohaila Abdulali is, so I’m just going to quote it: “Rape is horrible. But it is not horrible for all the reasons that have been drilled into the heads of Indian women. It is horrible because you are violated, you are scared, someone else takes control of your body and hurts you in the most intimate way. It is not horrible because you lose your “virtue.” It is not horrible because your father and your brother are dishonored. I reject the notion that my virtue is located in my vagina, just as I reject the notion that men’s brains are in their genitals.”

6. FRIDA: A closet full of Frida Kahlo’s personal items has been locked and guarded for 85 years and has just now been opened and explored.

Related Post: Sunday 89: Avalanches, Mr. Wright, pickpockets and Matt + Ben Forever.

Related Post: Sunday 88: Russian gymnasts, the Rockaways, origins of “doubt”, Moloch

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Why You Should Watch That Show with the Terrible Name

jules

Tonight is the return of Cougar Town and it will be glorious. How much have you missed Dime-Eyes, Jelly, Jules, Trav, and the Robert “Bobby” Cobb? Penny can? Army Boyfriend Wade? Tom! Big Carl! The nice guy and the “other one!” Baby Stan! God, so many good friends that I just want to snuggle up with forever and ever.

Wait, you mean you weren’t watching Cougar Town? Seriously? Yes, I know it has a stupid name that even its own writers hate, and yes, I know the first seven episodes are terrible, horrible, no-good flailing attempts at comedy. I grant you all that, but will you pretty please just tune in already?

Cougar Town is one of the most delightful examples in my absolute favorite television genre, Mixed Groups Sitting and Talking, zanier than Friends, less gimmicky than HIMYM, slightly more stable than Happy Endings, and more generationally diverse than New Girl. And it is absolutely drenched in wine.

If that’s not enough for you, Cougar Town passes the Bechdel test with flying colors, and it even scores highly on my own overwrought, overly complicated rubric for determining whether a show is feminist or not. Behold:

1. Marriage and Babies? The main character, Jules, is 41 when the show starts. While her attempts at romance are plot point, they are not the plot point. Even for the younger character (Lauri), her trajectory is about figuring out what she wants in life (she starts a new business at the end of season 3), and less about some desperate or overwhelming urge to partner.

2. Women like sex too? Check! My favorite scene is when Lauri (late 20s) and Ellie (early 40s) try to find a sexual partner they’ve shared. Jules’ teenage son, Travis, matches up their respective lists to find a winner. “There are a LOT of names on these lists,” he says, and the two women high five.

3. Body beautiful? As important to me as this component of feminist-y media is, it’s such a rare find that I’m considering removing it from the list altogether. I guess I just have to acquiesce to the fact that 95% of bodies on television are going to be thin, blonde, and mostly white. On the other hand, on CT, you do get Andy (short, bald, pudgy, hairy), and yet all the women fit a very narrow version of beauty. That doesn’t seem quite fair….

4. Platonic Boy Girl Friendships? Cougar Town always wins big when it relies on the less frequent cross-gender friend pairs. There are some great moments between Ellie and Bobby and even better ones between Andy and Lauri. Plus, Lauri and Grayson sleep together and then manage to maintain a sweet, supportive friendship that isn’t tainted by their past shenanigans.

5. Girls that don’t talk about boys. Ellie, Jules and Lauri do spend a lot of time talking about boys (tennis pros, Abercrombie models, Zac Efron, and more), but they also talk about Lauri’s relationship with her mom, how Jules and Ellie’s parenting styles have differed, relationships with therapists, their aging bodies (but like… come on, have you seen Courtney Cox?), and Ellie’s claustrophobia as a stay-at-home mom.

6. People want different things? This metric is about recognizing that men aren’t just after sex and women aren’t just after love and Cougar Town nails it. People are complicated. Jules writes Grayson off as a player who left his wife to date younger women, and comes to find out she left him because he wanted children and she didn’t. The original (flawed) premise of CT was the very exploration of a woman pursuing sex for the sake of it. It didn’t work, but the conversations that continued are really, really good.

7. Some women are bitches, some men are douches ≠ Battle of the Sexes: Sometimes people behave badly, but their behavior isn’t tied to men being dicks and women being bitches. Ellie is the closest to a caricature of a bitch, but over the last few seasons her role in the group has gotten more and more delightfully complicated.

8. Feminism isn’t a dirty word. Not sure that Cougar Town ever explicitly brings up the F word (correct me if I’m wrong!) but I would argue that the show addresses a lot of the big third wave questions (slut-shaming, double-standards, pressure to partner, body-snarking, SAHM vs. working mom) with wit and with a progressive-ish attitude.

9. Male Gaze? CT is obsessed with bodies, to be sure: Grayson’s waxed chest, Lauri’s boobs, Travis’ insecurity about his physique, the very opening sequence of the series (Jules pinching her underarms), but the camera isn’t sexist. It doesn’t linger on women’s bodies, it doesn’t pan up and down, it doesn’t encapsulate the male gaze.

This is all beside the point (I mean, not really, but kind of…). Cougar Town is fucking hilarious. It’s one of those shows that rewards your for your loyalty by echoing past gags, trusting you to remember the inside jokes, and having characters evolve in ways that only make sense–but they do make perfect sense!–if you’ve been following along. So start with season 1, but know that the first seven will be kind of janky, and just stick with it. I promise it’s worth it in the end.

Related Post: Does The Good Wife out-feminist Parks and Rec?

Related Post: Why 2012 was a good TV year for the ladies. 

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